Russians Are Teaching the Perils of Social Media “Organizing”

New Orleans     Ok, now they’ve gone too far!

Sure, like everyone I’ve tried to follow the noise and news about Russian interference in 2016 US elections. Not because I think their mischief and dirty tricks determined the results of the election, though I’m uncomfortably agreeing with President Trump on that score, but because, like all foul play, it impacted the election and that’s just plain dangerous, and also where I disagree with President Trump. It’s been wrong when the United States has interfered in elections in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa, and it’s equally wrong when the Russians or the North Koreans or the Chinese or anyone else messes with a country’s elections as well.

It turns out that the Russian interference on social media was not just a matter of buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads on Facebook. Not that that was insignificant either. The newspapers were full of revelations from Congressional hearings with the social media companies that their reach had long hands with posts on Facebook by Russian agents intended to sow discord during the election reached 126 million users on Facebook, more than 100000 posts published on Twitter and uploaded over 1000 videos on Google’s YouTube.

That’s a lot of noise for sure, but what takes me over the edge is the analysis by the Wall Street Journal of some of the accounts that indicates that they weren’t just throwing some words in the wind, but were actually using social media confusion in issuing the call to organize rallies on both sides of issues solely to create division. I’ve always argued that social media is an excellent communications tool, but a flawed organizing tool. Here is a case where they were able to use Facebook especially and its “messenger” application to not only issue the call for direct actions and rallies about various hot button issues, but actually dupe some folks into taking money for supplies, transportation, and other details involved in putting together these wolves-in-sheeps-clothing events. All of which makes them not fake, but real. The Journal was able to determine that at least 22 of the 60 events took place. In some cases the events even provoked counter rallies. In Dallas they turned out 300 people to a “Blue Lives Matter” rally after the shooting of police there. How will those good folks – and many others – feel when they realize they suited up and hit the streets to the call of Russian secret agents?!?

This kind of popular manipulation could make it even harder for real organizations and real organizers to recruit and organize around real grievances in the public space. A country that prides participation and protects protest can’t allow a public to be created that suddenly feels that they are unable to take action for fear of being deceived or to ignore legitimate protests fearing that they could be fake.

On the other hand it should also be a wake-up call about why real organizations are important in social change. Bonafides can easily be confirmed – even using the darned internet – with a check there on the history of the group, a wikipedia search, a look at their website postings. In real organizations people can actually join, volunteer, lead and not just follow, question and not just mimic and repeat the posting, lose and sometimes win.

Not to be too simplistic, but not everyone on Facebook is a friend, and not every call to action should be heeded. These are great tools, but they are even greater in the hands of organizers and organizations, rather than random strangers who may be working for the common good, or as we are now seeing, may be up to the worst evils.

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The Zombie Apocalypse of Republican Health Care Proposals

Newark  I don’t really watch these “living dead” zombie shows, but I’m starting to get the picture by following the various Republican proposals to “repeal and replace” the Obama Affordable Care Act. Here’s my question though? In the movies and television shows are each generation of zombies more disgusting and worse than the ones that came before them?

Certainly that is the case with the so-called Graham-Cassidy bill to take one more shot at this for the right wing before they would have to obtain more than a simple majority of Senators to push these horrors onto the American people. September 30th is the “expire by date” on the Republicans ability to make mischief with 50 votes, rather than having to go bipartisan with a super-majority.

Let’s look at this version of the healthcare apocalypse though.

A spokesperson for Kaiser Healthcare said it was almost impossible to imagine a bill so bad that it hurt even more people and that had less support from anyone.

Blue Cross/ Blue Shield, AARP, and other insurers, who have been largely silent in earlier versions of the bill, have all mobilized to oppose this version because they argue it will wreck havoc with insurance markets by destroying a national system and making it a state by state battleground.

Thirty-six states will immediately get less money from the Graham-Cassidy bill, if it succeeds. The pain will be especially pronounced in some of the blue states like New York, California, and Oregon, and generally in those states that expanded Medicaid for their citizens, but even the fourteen states that might see themselves as “winners,” have to understand it’s only temporary. By the 2020s part of the impact of this bill is not the simple devolution of healthcare responsibilities and the money that pays for them from the federales to the states, but a cutting of Medicaid dollars period, which will create a huge hole in state budgets everywhere and reduce many red states in the South to the healthcare delivery standards of third-world nations.

Economists argue that even the sponsors of the bill don’t seem to have a clear idea what’s in the language. For example, Cassidy and Graham have claimed it continues to protect those with preexisting conditions, but reading the bill it’s just not in there.

There is no cost estimate on the bill from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office nor is there a score on how many will lose coverage under this bill. The best estimate is that 30 million will be pushed off of insurance.

So, why are we worrying that this zombie may end up ruling our world, rather than having a stake driven through its heart? God knows, but it seems to be just a case of politics divorced from the impact of health and harm to the public. The Republicans are so desperate to fulfill an absurd promise that they willing to pretend a mangy dog is Lassie on the way to save you.

If there’s something you can do, do it now, before this zombie stalks the land and leaves million dead or dying.

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